Some bosses are harder to forget than others. While bosses can be unforgettable because they make life miserable, the most memorable bosses stick with us because they change us for the better.
When I ask audiences to describe the best and worst boss they ever worked for, people inevitably ignore innate characteristics (intelligence, extraversion, attractiveness, and so on) and instead focus on qualities that are completely under the boss’s control, such as passion, insight, and honesty.
These words describe bosses who are high in emotional intelligence. And they aren’t just great to work for—TalentSmart research data from more than a million people shows that bosses with high EQs outperform those who lack EQ by a large margin.
Great bosses see more in us than we see in ourselves, and they help us learn to see it too. They dream big, and show us all of the great things we can accomplish.
By taking a closer look at the unique qualities of unforgettable bosses, you can learn valuable skills, inspire your coworkers, and be on your way to becoming unforgettable yourself.
Related: Are You a Leader or a Follower?
Here are some of the most common and meaningful characteristics of memorable bosses.
1. They’re passionate.
Few things are more demotivating than a boss who is bored with his life and his job. If the boss doesn’t care, why should anybody else? Unforgettable bosses are passionate about what they do. They believe in what they’re trying to accomplish, and they have fun doing it. This makes everyone else want to join the ride.
2. They’re transparent.
Unforgettable bosses are who they are, all of the time. They don’t lie to cover up their mistakes, and they don’t make false promises. Their people don’t have to exert energy trying to figure out their motives or predict what they’re going to do next. Equally as important, they don’t hide things they have the freedom to disclose. Instead of hoarding information and being secretive to boost their own power, they share information and knowledge generously.
3. They’re proactive.
Some bosses will throw people under the bus without a second thought. Great bosses pull their people from the bus’s path before they’re in danger. They coach, and they move obstacles out of the way—even if their people put those obstacles there in the first place. Sometimes, they clean up messes their people never even knew they made. And, if they can’t stop the bus, they’ll jump out in front of it and take the hit themselves.
4. They’re insightful.
Great bosses play chess, not checkers. Think about the difference. In checkers, all the pieces are basically the same. That’s a poor model for leadership, because nobody wants to feel like a faceless cog in the proverbial wheel. In chess, on the other hand, each piece has a unique role, unique abilities, and unique limitations. Unforgettable bosses are like great chess masters. They recognize what’s unique about each member of their team. They know their strengths, weaknesses, likes, and dislikes, and they use that insight to draw the very best from each individual.
5. They’re a port in a storm.
Unforgettable bosses don’t get rattled, even when everything is going haywire. Under immense pressure they act like Eugene Kranz, flight director for the Apollo 13 mission. In the moments after the explosion, when death looked certain and panic seemed like the only option, Kranz kept his cool. He said, “Okay, now, let’s everybody keep cool. Let’s solve the problem, but let’s not make it any worse by guessing.” In those initial moments, he had no idea how they were going to get the astronauts home, but, as he later explained, “You do not pass uncertainty down to your team members.” People who’ve worked for an unforgettable boss often look back later and marvel at their coolness under pressure. That’s why, 45 years after Apollo 13, people are still talking about Eugene Kranz and his leadership during that crisis.
6. They’re human.
Unforgettable bosses are human and they aren’t afraid to show it. They’re personable and easy to relate to. They’re warm. They realize that people have emotions, and they aren’t afraid to express their own. They relate to their people as a person first and a boss second. On the other hand, they know how to keep their emotions in check when the situation calls for it.
7. They’re modest.
Unforgettable bosses don’t gloat or seek recognition. Their work is truly a team effort, and their people feel accomplished when group goals are met. Since these bosses don’t believe they are above anyone or anything, they openly address their mistakes so that everyone can learn from them. Their modesty sets a tone of humility and strength that everyone else follows.
Bringing it all together
For many unforgettable bosses, things clicked once they stopped thinking about what their people could do for them, and started thinking about what they could do to help their people succeed.
Inspire. Teach. Protect. Remove obstacles. Be human. If you cultivate these characteristics, you’ll become the unforgettable boss that your people will remember for the rest of their careers.
A version of this article first appeared at TalentSmart.com.